The survey will collect demographic information as well as information about digital habits. Its goal is to help the city create targeted programs that respond to the needs of residents. “We can see the impact, we just need to measure it now,” said Brittney Cofield-Poole (ME!), community outreach specialist for the IT department. She will oversee the collection of the survey. Finding out what people need from a municipal IT department is part of a larger four-year effort, Roper said. It was important to her to lead the department to become more community-focused and fill in digital gaps. via Raleigh will ask residents about technology habits | News and Observer News and Observer.
I have embarked on the DISSERTATION leg of the graduate school marathon. To the left of this paragraph is a true-to-life illustration of how a dissertation gets done!
However instead of treating this experience solely like a burdening book report I decided to use it as a platform for community development. Shouldn’t the primary goal of scholarship at the doctoral level be committed to affecting change? YES! Fortunately my academic interests are closely aligned with my professional pursuits which allow me to use my project as a stepping stone toward progress.
My topic is centered on what is known in the STEM world as “digital inclusion”. In a nutshell this concept is aimed at creating avenues for technology access to citizens through internet connection, digital devices (i.e. computer, smartphone & tablets), digital literacy (i.e. computer skills). These technical skills and tools have become quite necessary for people to gain access to social services, education, social networks and most important employment. In other words, WE’VE GOT TO GET FOLKS WIRED AND ONLINE! So what better way to assess who might be waiting in the margins of connectivity than COMMUNITY-BASED RESEARCH 🙂
In August I successfully proposed this idea to my dissertation committee and with a few suggestions they gave me the green light to move forward. I spent the months following my proposal testing out a survey, revising it and planning community meetings to inform citizens that their input about their technology use may be requested. You see that’s what they teach us in Community Psychology that communication, relationship building and transparency are some of the most important tools a researcher has. So whats next?! Blog posts for Dissertation Phase 2 which will focus on my experience engaging with citizens at community meetings . A wise man once told me that “relationships are primary and everything else is derivative”…here’s hoping for the best!
Throughout my time in graduate school I have had many ideas about how I wanted to affect change. However every time I read a research article or took a new course my vision was swiftly re-imagined. Throughout all of this transition the core of what I wanted to do always stayed the same which was to empower youth. Initially my interests were centered in adolescent health and then literacy. Shortly after that I decided that teacher education was my path. Finally on a desperate search for Thesis data I crash landed into Youth Civic Engagement. After I immersed myself into this literature I never looked back. While diving into research and data here’s what I found:
- Research centered on youth civic engagement is a small but growing body of knowledge
- Research on minority youth and civic engagement is virtually non existent
- There is an interesting concept known as Digital Citizenship
In between proposing, writing and defending my Master’s Thesis I also found myself working in local government on a progressive digital literacy program. My previous community experiences had all been volunteer based:
- Outreach focused on increasing Census counts in under-served and under-counted communities within SE Raleigh
- Assisting with the final development and promotion of a service learning curriculum
- Volunteering at the Boys & Girls club
They all gave me a chance to engage in challenging and grassroots level community work but I still had yet to find my personal niche. What I found in my thesis is that minority youth are indeed engaged and contextual factors like age and personal experience impact their choice to do so. Furthermore scholarship tells us that the definition of “civic engagement” is evolving. In other words traditional notions of politically based definitions of civil participation is not reflected in this new crop of youth. Instead they are crowd sourcing their information and connecting through virtual ties.
Following my thesis and in the thick of my responsibilities at work a light bulb went off. It hit me that technology is an all encompassing phenomena driving innovation but more importantly it can also be a source of empowerment. The current generation of youth are tech-savvy particularly in a recreational capacity. Therefore I propose using technology as a conduit for engaging young people.
So how does all of this lead to my professional epiphany? I realized that technology and civic engagement are synergistic forces that intrigue me as a scholar. Ultimately I would like to work for a company that seeks to go beyond “outreach” and instead focuses on “community inclusion” by providing opportunities to facilitate civic tech skills by serving as a neighborhood Hub. An organization that recognizes the endless potential that young people have to share loudly with the world their innovative ideas for change. A place that also recognizes that empowerment does not equate charity and understands that it is enhanced through raising critical consciousness, knowledge acquisition and efficacious experiences.
Those are the ingredients necessary for my future career!
When I started this blog in the fall of 2013 I envisioned a steady flow of posts at LEAST twice a month. Nevertheless my multi-dimensional schedule of obligations put a quick stop to that aspiration. To provide you with some context I’ll share my colorful list of responsibilities. However I implore you not to place any significant emphasis on the ranking since my priorities tend to rotate constantly:
- Doctoral Student: Including coursework AND degree requirements
- Community Liaison Specialist: My position within the Community Outreach Division of local government
- Executive Director of “doinDURM”: Working with a collective of young professionals dedicated to creating and sharing community driven art/media events as well as providing support to local organizations
- National Committee Member: Finishing up a 2 year term as a graduate student representative on a committee dedicated to addressing the needs of ethnic minority students within my field
- Personal Well Being: Trying to ensure that I prioritize personal happiness and self-care!
Needless to say all of those priorities kept me from maintaining this blog consistently however my absence did not come without triumph! I’ll be focusing on one academic milestone in particular known as “Preliminary Exams” which were the root cause of my virtual hermitism. In my Community Psychology program these exams are the midpoint between the Masters Thesis and the Doctoral Dissertation. They are a rite of passage so to speak, dedicated to preparing young scholars as experts within their areas of interest through a month long examination of their competencies. To avoid keeping you in suspense I in fact PASSED which means that I am now moving forward to begin my dissertation work. However here’s an illustration of what it felt like:
What I would like to focus on here is the cathartic experience I had while sorting through my library of scholarly literature and engaging in endless writing for my proposed exam questions. My research and professional interests are one in the same which is: The promotion of youth civic engagement through social technology (i.e. social media, applications and/or youth driven tech innovation). In other words I am interested in creating opportunities that encourage young people to become facilitators of social good through efficacy building experiences and EduTech training. How does a PhD student in Community Psychology plan to accomplish this you ask? This is the very question that I ruminated over during my preliminary exams. A larger question I asked myself is: How do we begin to translate rich, at times dense, scholarship into practical tools for social change? Fortunately my faculty committee challenged me with questions that forced me to orient my thinking into an applied context with some topics including:
- Youth Sociopolitical Development
- Information communication technology as a tool for promoting pro social (positive) behaviors among minority youth
- Using community psychology principles in education based intervention
Basically I was challenged to translate “scholar speak” into relative communication and useful/tangible resources. During this process I realized that my job in local government this past year and a half has been my first real world test of parlaying academic skills within a real world context. I have seen theoretical concepts both succeed and fail while working with community. So what is the point of all of this? To to demystify the utility of social science research training. I would also like to use this blog to encourage the industry outside of the academy to see the value in adding research trained scholars to their teams AND to encourage graduate programs to push application as an integral part of doctoral training. As I evolve out of the student-employee role I hope to continue to use my skills to connect the bridge between research and outreach. This blog will serve as a sounding board during this journey.